My favorite part about visiting a city is checking out the food scene. I’ll confess, I’m more than happy to blow my travel budget on food and even plan my day around restaurants that I want to check out. I’d like to share with you a list of some of my favorite restaurants for your next visit to the beautifully sunny city. If you’re wondering when is a good time to visit, I highly suggest coming during the months of July through October when the weather is at its warmest and there’s no coastal overcast; beware the “May gray, June gloom” season.
Yes, the brewery scene is off the chain, but before you can indulge in some hoppy goodness, you need to fuel up with some good food. I came to know these places through a combination of word-of-mouth and Yelp. If you do a quick search on Yelp, you’ll see that almost all have a 4 star (or more) rating. In no particular order, I present to you 10 restaurants worth checking out on your next visit to the beautiful city I call home. I’ve listed the neighborhoods they’re located in as well as info on parking*.
1. Slater’s 50/50 (Liberty Station)
Burgers, burgers, burgers! Can you guess what my favorite meal is? Immediately when I moved into the city I was on the hunt for a good burger joint. I know many of you would say that In-N-Out is the ultimate place, but for someone who was raised on that stuff, I’d prefer to venture out and explore other options. As soon as I heard what Slater’s 50/50 was all about, I was intrigued. Their burger patties are half ground beef and half ground bacon. Yup, you read that right… half bacon! It sure gives the burger a good kick. The burger is huge in addition to the fries and lets not forget the amazing selection of beers on tap (their menu includes beer pairings).
Parking: Free parking lot.
2. Extraordinary Desserts (Little Italy & Balboa Park)
If dessert is your meal of choice, I highly recommend Extraordinary Desserts. They seem to have something for everyone’s taste buds: cakes, cookies, brownies, etc. They change up their selection depending on the season, and they also have a nice assortment of teas and coffee beverages. I recommend dinning in with friends or a significant other. The Balboa Park location offers a cozy atmosphere with a smaller layout and the Little Italy location has a more swanky ambiance. You can’t go wrong with either location.
Parking: Street parking (2hr limit) at both locations.
3. Craft & Commerce (Little Italy)
If gastropubs and craft drinks are your thing, Craft & Commerce is a great place to land. I’ve been coming to this establishment since I first came to San Diego and every visit never disappoints. Their menu is packed with mouth watering options and their craft drinks are worth exploring. After months of being closed, the newly remodeled establishment boasts a new menu, a more spacious layout and a hidden tiki bar in the back called False Idol. Be sure to make reservations so you don’t miss out on the dinning experience… or you have the option of going to the bar for drinks. It’s a great place to start a night of bar hopping in Little Italy.
Parking: Parking lot right next door, but you will need to pay. Street parking available (2hr limit).
4. Rose Donuts (Linda Vista)
These days, my Saturday morning ritual consists of the following: early yoga class followed by a stop at Rose Donuts for a chocolate glazed donut and a cafe au lait. Growing up, my sister and I were regulars at our hometown’s donut shop. Their donuts were just simply the best and the family who owned it were such great people. Once we moved away, we both made it a point to find a shop that made similar donuts like the ones we had growing up and I’m glad I found Rose Donuts. Their glazed donuts are so fluffy and the right amount of sweet. They have a large variety that includes old fashions, sprinkled donuts, muffins, donut holes, etc. The best thing about the place is the family who runs it; always greeting you with smiles on their faces and a cheerful attitude.
Parking: Free parking
5. Tacos El Gordo (Chula Vista)
Tacos El Gordo is the closes thing you’ll get to Tijuana-style tacos on this side of the border. The business was first established in Mexico, so of course they know what it takes. Soft corn tortillas with juicy mean… yes please! Their Chula Vista location has stood the test of time and is the only one I’ll drive to even though I know they have a close one to me. Please be advised that there is always a long line and parking is limited, so just plan ahead and don’t arrive completely hungry.
Parking: Free parking, but it’s a very small lot. You can park on neighboring streets, but it will be a walk.
6. Kensington Cafe (Kensington)
For all you brunch babes, Kensington Cafe is a place worth checking out. They have an expansive menu with items such as french toast, breakfast sandwiches, scrambles and lots more. In addition to this, they have a variety of espresso drinks and smoothies that are absolutely delicious. The food has just the perfect mix of ingredients and flavors that won’t disappoint. They have their dinner menu displayed on the backside with just as many mouth-watering options as brunch, so don’t worry if you sleep in… you can always catch them for din din!
Parking: Street parking (2hr and free residential available).
7. Zia Pizza (Normal Heights)
Normal Heights has a nice row of bars all along Adams Avenue. Whenever I’m in the neighborhood about to start my bar hopping night, I make it a point to eat at Zia’s first to fuel up. Pizzas are sold by the slice and they’re definitely one-of-a-kind. The restaurant prides itself on offering gourmet/specialty pizzas, so don’t walk in expecting to find a plain pepperoni. Great selection of beers on tap and specialty sodas to add to your meal. They have a standard set of pizzas that they switch up everyday, so my best advice is to show up with an open mind. They won’t disappoint.
Parking: Street parking (2hr and free residential available).
8. Subterranean Coffee (Hillcrest & North Park)
I do my best to support small businesses throughout San Diego and my favorite ones so far are coffee shops. Subterranean Coffee is a great place to check out both for the drinks, food and ambiance. If you need to get some work done, both locations have enough tables where you can set up shop and work. You’ll feel right at home with the eclectic decor of miss-matching furniture and local artwork. Their food selection is just as yummy as their coffee, so you can easily make it a lunch+work combo.
Parking: Street parking (2hr limit) at the Hillcrest location. North Park has free residential parking available.
9. Costa Brava (Pacific Beach)
In a city that’s so saturated with Mexican food, it’s a breath of fresh air when you find other Hispanic restaurants. Costa Brava is a great place to go if you’re in the mood for Spanish Tapas. They offer live music on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays in the evening. I had the opportunity to experience Sunday’s music which included a Flamenco performance. Just like the performance, the food did not disappoint. They offer both hot and cold tapas in addition to entrees (if you’re not in the mood to share, heehee). If you’re a fan of any Spanish futbol, this is a great place to catch a game. During the season, it’s rare to find an empty seat at the bar.
Parking: Street parking (2hr and free residential).
10. Farmer’s Bottega Restaurant (Mission Hills)
Of course I’m going to feature a Farm-to-Table restaurant! This article wouldn’t be complete without one. FTT restaurants are spreading like wildfire in the city (no pun intended); largely because we’re in such close proximity to hundreds of local farmers. The menu at Farmer’s changes regularly with the seasons. The executive chef does an amazing job of whipping up fresh and flavorful meals that leave you wanting more. With a nice rustic decor, expect to have your drinks served up in a mason jar.
Parking: Street parking (2hr limit).
*Most 2 hour parking areas are from 8am-6pm Monday through Saturday. Sundays and federal holidays are the exception. For those that have meters, the average price is $2.50 for the full 2 hours and almost all accept cards or coins.